Sunday, September 27, 2020

Air Botswana privatization halted

Cabinet was on Thursday forced on a humiliating climb-down after parliament passed a motion calling for the immediate suspension of the Air Botswana privatization transaction.

Parliament decided on the extraordinary steps after it emerged that the privatization of Air Botswana violated the elementary principles of the Privatisation Policy as passed by parliament in 2000.

Members of Parliament expressed concern that the ongoing negotiations will eventually lead to the liquidation and winding up of the national carrier.

Attempts by Transport Minister, Lesego Motsumi, to put her spin on the debate were dismissed as were those by Finance Minister, Baledzi Gaolathe, who complained against MPs growing penchant to ambush the executive with hostile motions.

Parliamentarians said they were particularly worried about the future of over 300 airline employees, whose fate remains unknown under the prevailing circumstances after they were told at a recent staff meeting that the airline could be liquidated as early as August this year.

Legislators have also expressed concerns about behind the scenes manipulation by a certain aide (name withheld) in the Office of the President who is pulling strings in the Air Botswana transaction for his benefit.

The aide is said to be working in cahoots with SA Airlink, some officials at PEEPA and some politicians to ?strip off? Air Botswana assets.

Parliament is also not happy that the ongoing negotiations with SA Airlink do not take into consideration the spirit of citizen economic empowerment.

Parliament said that although the airline engaged the services of a Chief Executive who was sold as a company turnaround strategist, the latest financial results are the worst in recent memory.

The setback of Air Botswana privatization is the fourth failed attempt since 2001.

The first attempt at privatising the airline was aborted after all the bidders withdrew, citing a depressed international civil aviation market following the September 11 terrorist attacks in The United States.

Subsequent bids also collapsed as government could not get impressive suitors to become strategic partners.

Presenting his motion in parliament, Member of Parliament for Francistown South, Khumo Maoto, had an easy ride.

Blow by blow, Maoto demonstrated how the ongoing negotiations involving government and their privatization representatives (PEEPA) on one hand and SA Airlink on the other violated the essence and spirit of the Privatisation Policy.

Maoto said it is clear that the interests and future welfare of Air Botswana staff have not been given sufficient attention.

There were also concerns raised that SA Airlink is not the best suitor given allegations that elsewhere on the continent, the airline is doing badly.

?We also need clarification on the allegations that the giant South African Airways has severed its links with SA Airlink,? said Maoto.

A further discount against SA Airlink included allegations of a costly and protracted litigation over code sharing in Lesotho and Swaziland.

Maoto said under the Privatisation Policy there should have been created a Trust Fund which would warehouse shares on behalf of the employees and citizens.

?But where is the Fund,? asked Maoto who was clearly enjoying himself.

The situation has not been helped by a recent statement from PEEPA confirming that in their bid, SA Airlink had proposed the winding up of Air Botswana.

?This would involve the disposal of assets and liabilities of Air Botswana, and staff rationalization,? said the PEEPA statement.

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Sunday Standard September 27 – 3 October

Digital copy of Sunday Standard issue of September 27 - 3 October, 2020.